Rival Libyan officials hold UN-led election talks in Switzerland

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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Discussions will focus on drafting a constitutional framework for elections after failing to reach an agreement.

Two senior Libyan officials began talking for two days about constitutional arrangements for elections, the United Nations’ latest attempt to bridge the gap between the country’s rivals.

Aguila Saleh, the influential speaker of parliament in the east of the country, and Khaled al-Meshri, head of the Supreme Council of State of the internationally recognized government based in the west, in the capital Tripoli, met at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

According to the UN, talks will focus on a draft constitutional framework for elections after Libya’s rival factions failed to agree during their latest round of talks in Egypt’s capital Cairo earlier in June.

According to Libyan media, the criterion for a presidential candidacy was a controversial point in the previous round of talks.

The Tripoli-based council has insisted on banning military personnel from running for the country’s highest-ranking post – apparently, a move targeting divisive commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are loyal to the east-based government.

Haftar had announced his candidacy for the presidential election scheduled for last December. Still, the vote was not held due to numerous issues, including controversial candidates and disputes over election laws.


Tensions are mounting on the ground, and clashes recently broke out in Tripoli between rival militias.

Living conditions have also deteriorated, mainly due to fuel shortages in the oil-rich country. Tribal leaders have shut down many oil facilities, including the country’s largest oil field.

The blockade was largely intended to cut off important state revenues from incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has refused to resign.

Now Dbeibah and a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, appointed by the east-based parliament to lead a transitional government, claim power. The rivalry has sparked fears the country could fight again after tentative steps toward unity last year.

Libya has been ravaged by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and assassinated longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The country was then divided for years between rival governments in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.

Malik Traina of Al Jazeera, reporting from Tripoli, said: “Libyans here are not very hopeful that talks will lead to a breakthrough.

“In recent years, since the UN started these talks, agreements have been made, and if one side of the conflict doesn’t like it, it goes wrong,” he said.

However, Traina added that even if the talks are successful, pitfalls are still ahead.

†[If an] agreement has been reached and they have agreed on a constitutional framework to hold elections, which government will oversee those elections?” said Traina.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands reported from Geneva that the talks aimed to move Libya away from further conflict.

“What they are trying to do is bring the country of Libya back to an improved and more stable version of where it was on December 21 when those presidential and parliamentary elections were banned at the last minute,” Challands said.

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